Atlanta Fire Rescue Cadet Program: Our Path to the Future

Rather than hiring high school students and attempting to place them in various divisions and sections of the department, we took a different approach.


One of the many descriptions of Atlanta, GA, is "Resurgence City." Atlanta has often faced near-overwhelming odds, but without fail, its citizens have rebuilt from the ashes, as is so vividly portrayed by the city's symbol of the legendary "Phoenix." Atlanta continues to rise to the challenges put...


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One of the many descriptions of Atlanta, GA, is "Resurgence City." Atlanta has often faced near-overwhelming odds, but without fail, its citizens have rebuilt from the ashes, as is so vividly portrayed by the city's symbol of the legendary "Phoenix." Atlanta continues to rise to the challenges put before it and always will. One modern-day epic challenge/opportunity involves education and career opportunities for Atlanta's greatest resource, its youth. This column will examine the role that Atlanta Fire Rescue plays in being a part of this major community-based initiative.

When Mayor Shirley Franklin took office, she presented a simple, straightforward, but powerful and effective turnaround plan for our city. This platform plank that illuminated a safer city was the top reason that led me to want to be a part of her cabinet. The second element of Mayor Franklin's plan is the initiative to improve education for our youth. The vehicle for achieving this goal is a program titled "Next Steps."

In the first year that Atlanta Fire Rescue became involved in "Next Steps," we hired seven high school seniors and distributed them throughout the department at various division assignments. Unfortunately, this was done without much thought or discussion. Providing jobs and work experience seemed like the right way to support the mayor's award-winning "Next Steps" program, but at the end of the school year, there was no direct result that impacted the department. It was at this point that the Fire Cadet Program idea was formulated and refined.

Focus On Career Opportunities

Historically, Atlanta Fire Rescue has had difficulty filling entry-level firefighter positions. When I took over as fire chief in late 2003, the department had more than 150 vacancies, which was very costly in overtime payments. In addition, the vacancies hampered external training, shift work, vacation slots and providing backup fire apparatus operators, since each shift was short by more than 50 members. As part of a very aggressive recruitment campaign in conjunction with the "Next Steps" program, our Fire Cadet Program was developed.

Rather than hiring high school students and attempting to place them in various divisions and sections of the department, hoping for a fit between the part-time workers and organizational needs, we took a different approach. The well-thought-out plan called for a recruitment program in each of Atlanta's 10 public high school districts. This time, we would attempt to hire young people interested in becoming career firefighters, preferably in our city. We developed a detailed handbook describing the requirements, prerequisites and responsibilities of an Atlanta Fire Rescue cadet. We were very fortunate to have Captain Sylvia Gardner (now retired) and Firefighter Melodie Moss manage the program. Captain Gardner supervised and coordinated the program and Firefighter Moss was the program's full-time commander. After three years of hard work and effort by many people, the program has paid wonderful dividends with a great return on our investment.

During the summer and early fall, two high school seniors are identified for our program from each Atlanta public high school. The seniors must meet our requirements for selection as sworn firefighters in our department, which involves an extensive process. Once the young people express an interest, the months of September, October and November are spent getting them tested, qualified and on the payroll.

Among the many steps to become a recruit/cadet firefighter for Atlanta is a comprehensive background check, completion of the International Association of Fire Fighters/ International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFF/IAFC) Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), psychological testing, police record review, fingerprinting, entrance examination and personal history. Cadets must be recommended by school guidance counselors and pass a final oral interview conducted by the department. Once all of the steps are completed, a provisional offer of employment is made contingent on successful completion of a medical examination based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1582.

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